Govt blinded by science

Govt blinded by science

The government's axeing of two science and math projects, despite a total cost for both of only 700 million baht, raises doubts about how serious it is about improving science and technology education.

Last week, the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) announced it would suspend its 25th Junior Science Talent Project (JSTP) programme due to a lack of budget.

The JSTP's website says the project is aimed at supporting talented youths so that they can one day become top scientists and researchers.

It has been reported that the project requires 300 million baht a year to educate 200 researchers in the science and technology fields.

When news of the project's suspension became public, the NSTDA said the decision stemmed not only from budget constraints but also the Covid-19 situation.

Meanwhile, the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST) said last week it would suspend grants under its Promotion of Science and Mathematics Talented Teachers (PSMT) project, likewise due to budget constraints.

The PSMT project aims to develop high-calibre science and maths teaching. Under the scheme, educators will receive scholarships to pursue a one-year degree in science and maths teaching, and later will be employed at state schools nationwide.

After two years, teachers can apply for national scholarships towards a master's degree.

The project called for 1.65 billion baht for its four-year phase, or 412 million baht a year, with the aim of producing 1,200 teachers.

These two projects are essential for education system development. Yet cancellation of what are two highly affordable projects suggests the government's much-hyped "Thailand 4.0" and "S-Curve" visions might be short-sighted.

The amounts required for these teacher development projects should not be an issue if the government is serious about improving the country's science and technology ability.

And bear in mind, earlier this month the cabinet agreed on the Royal Thai Air Force's plan to procure four US-made F35 stealth fighter jets to replace its ageing fleet, at an estimated cost of 13.8 billion baht.

The cabinet also approved the military's plan to buy various other weapons, including tanks, helicopters, and planes, all at a substantial cost.

Of course, some weapons may be necessary for protecting the country and its resources.

But human development to boost the country's long-term prosperity must not be ignored and so the government should prioritise its budget allocations properly.

Thailand's gross expenditure on R&D grew steadily from 2010 to 2019 and reached the crucial threshold of 1% of GDP in 2017.

However, about 80% of R&D expenditure is contributed by the private sector.

During the pandemic, budget allocations for R&D in the public sector and state universities have been cut.

Moreover, academic institutes and potential recipient agencies say that large universities in the capital remain fully supported while provincial universities have faced deep budget cuts, hastening the regional-city divide.

It is imperative the government reconsider suspension of vital education projects and make them a priority in its budget allocation list.

Without sufficient budget and policy support, the country's level of science and innovation will only fall, as will our country's level of competitiveness.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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